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The Night Prayer

In the blessed month of Ramaḍān and its beautiful nights that we eagerly awaited, we discuss a path of the prophets as well as the revivalists who came after them. We discuss arguably one of the most effective tools in softening the heart, reviving īmān and repairing broken relationships with Allāh.

It is an act of worship which is revived by the Muslims in the most exciting and heart-warming of ways on the first night of each Ramadān; but is abandoned by the majority of them in the most depressing and heart-aching of ways following the last night of Ramadān. I speak of a real paradise on earth, of the introduction of prophethood and of the hallmark of every wakeful Muslim from every era. I speak of Allāh’s gift to humanity; Qiyāmul Layl/the night prayer.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

عَلَيْكُمْ بِقِيَامِ اللَّيْلِ فَإِنَّهُ دَأَبُ الصَّالِحِينَ قَبْلَكُمْ، وَهُوَ قُرْبَةٌ إِلَى رَبِّكُمْ، وَمَكْفَرَةٌ لِلسَّيِّئَاتِ، وَمَنْهَاةٌ لِلإِثْمِ

“Hold fast to the night prayer, for it is the practice of the righteous before you, and a means of drawing closer to your Lord, and an eraser of sin, and a means of their prevention.”[1]

We wish to pause with this narration since it speaks of an act of worship that the majority of us will be participating in on a nightly basis in Ramaḍān in the form of the Tarawīh prayers. This narration on its own is enough to transform one’s perception towards the night prayer altogether, for it clearly is not an average deed, limited to bowing and prostration, nor is it limited to the nights of Ramaḍān, rather –

The night prayer is, as we read above; (1) “the practice of the righteous before you”

In mentioning the greats of the past how can any name be mentioned before the greatest and purest of them all: Our Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)? Sūrah Al-Muzammil is one of the earliest chapters of the Qur’ān to be revealed to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). The scholars are generally agreed that it was the third or fourth Sūrah revealed to him. In it, Allāh commanded His Prophet:

قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا (2) نِصْفَهُ أَوِ انْقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا (3) أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

“Arise the night, except for a little. Half of it or a little less than that, or add to it, and recite the Qur’ān with measured recitation.”[2]

Therefore, if Sūrah Al-Muzammil was amongst the first of revelation given to the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), then the instruction to pray at night was also one of the very first instructions given by Allāh to the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in his preparation for the mammoth tasks that awaited him. What is amazing however is that within this Sūrah, Allāh said, describing the night prayer of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):

إِنَّ رَبَّكَ يَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ تَقُومُ أَدْنَى مِنْ ثُلُثَيِ اللَّيْلِ وَنِصْفَهُ وَثُلُثَهُ وَطَائِفَةٌ مِنَ الَّذِينَ مَعَكَ

“Indeed, your Lord knows that you stand in prayer almost two thirds of the night or half of it or a third of it, and so do a group of those with you…” [3]

At a time when the entire collection of the Qur’ān only consisted of 3 or 4 Sūrahs, the Prophet’s prayer was described as occupying around two-thirds of the night! Therefore what would he be doing for all those hours, bearing in mind the few options of Qur’ān that he had access to at the time? Was he repeating them over and over? Was he engaging in Dhikr (remembrance) or Du’ā (supplication)? Regardless of the answer, what we do know for sure is that the night prayer was the introduction of his prophethood, one that remained with him until his very last moments. The night prayer is truly “the way of the righteous people before you.”

In fact, Abūz Zinād said,

كُنْتُ أَخْرُجُ مِنَ السَّحَرِ إِلَى مَسْجِدِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَلَا أَمُرُّ بِبَيْتٍ إِلَّا وَفِيهِ قَارِئٌ، وَ كُنَّا وَنَحْنُ فَتَيَانٌ نُرِيدُ أَنْ نَخْرُجَ لِحَاجَةٍ فَنَقُولُ: مَوْعِدُكُمْ قِيَامُ الْقُرَّاءِ

“I used to walk towards the Masjid of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) during the latter part of the night and every house that I’d walk past, I’d hear the recitation of Qur’ān.” He also said, “When we were kids and had a need that required our attention, we would say ‘Let’s meet up during the prayer time of the reciters.’[4]

Tāwūs said:

ما كنت أرى أحدًا ينام في السحر

“I never used to see anyone sleeping during the latter part of the night.”[5]

A student of knowledge once spent the night at Imām Aḥmad’s house and so Aḥmad placed for him a container of water in his room so that he could use to make Wudū for his night prayer. When Aḥmad came to him at Fajr time, he noticed that the water had not been moved from its place, so he said:

 سبحان الله! رجل يطلب العلم، ولا يكون له ورد بالليل!

“SubḥānAllāh, a student of knowledge who doesn’t pray at night?”  [6]

Indeed, SubḥānAllāh, an ISOC committee member who does not pray at night?

A contributor at a study circle who does not pray at night? A distributor of Islāmic reminders, a student of Tajwīd, a parent who aspires to raise Muslim children, a Muslim who believes that the face of the angel of death shall certainly be seen, that the compressing of the grave is real, and that the standing on the day of reckoning will last 50,000 years who does not pray at night?

The night prayer is (2) “a means of drawing closer to your Lord”

If you ask about the shortest staircase towards Allāh’s acceptance, then you can find one of those staircases during the night, and perhaps this is the reason why Allāh has offered so much to those who discipline themselves to glorify Him through this act of worship; because it means so much to Him. What is their reward? In truth, we do not entirely know for certain.

Allāh said:

تَتَجَافَى جُنُوبُهُمْ عَنِ الْمَضَاجِعِ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ

“Their sides forsake their beds, as they call upon their Lord in fear and hope, and from what We have provided them, they spend.”[7]

So what is their reward? Allāh said, in the āyah after it:

فَلا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌ مَا أُخْفِيَ لَهُمْ مِنْ قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍ جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

“And so no soul knows of the delights of the eyes that have been hidden for them, as reward for what they used to do.”[8]

Why was a specific reward not mentioned? Imām Ibnul Qayyim gives a suggestion:

وتأمل كيف قابل ما أخفوه من قيام الليل بالجزاء الذي أخفاه لهم مما لا تعلمه نفس

“Ponder over how, since they were keen to hide their acts of night prayer, He compensated them by offering them a hidden and unknown reward.”[9]

This is not to say that Allāh has not uncovered some of the secrets behind this unknown reward. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

إِنَّ فِي الْجَنَّةِ غُرَفًا تُرَى ظُهُورُهَا مِنْ بُطُونِهَا ، وَبُطُونُهَا مِنْ ظُهُورِهَا ، فَقَامَ أَعْرَابِيٌّ فَقَالَ : لِمَنْ هِيَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ؟ قَالَ : لِمَنْ أَطَابَ الْكَلامَ ، وَأَطْعَمَ الطَّعَامَ ، وَأَدَامَ الصِّيَامَ ، وَصَلَّى لِلَّهِ بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّاسُ نِيَامٌ

“In Jannah, there are rooms, the outsides of which can be seen from their insides and their insides can be seen from their outsides. An Arab Bedouin man got up and asked, ‘Who do they belong to O messenger of Allāh?’ He responded, ‘They belong to those who speak with goodness, offer food, consistently fast and pray at night when people are asleep.’”[10]

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) also said:

ثلاثةٌ يحبُّهم اللهُ ويضحَكُ إليهم ويستبشِرُ بهم [..] والذي له امرأةٌ حسنةٌ وفِراشٌ لَيِّنٌ حسَنٌ، فيقوم من الليلِ [فيقول] يذَرُ شَهوتَه ويذكُرني، ولو شاء رقدَ

“There are three categories of people whom Allāh loves, smiles at and is happy with.” One of which was “a person who has a beautiful spouse and soft bedding. Nevertheless, he arises to pray at night. Thus Allāh says, ‘He has left his desire in order to remember me, and if he had willed, he could have continued sleeping.’”[11]

One may ask: What does it mean if Allāh smiles at me? The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

وإذا ضحك ربك إلى عبد في الدنيا فلا حساب عليه

“And if Allāh smiles at a servant of His in this world, then such a person will have no accountability on the day of judgement.” [12]

The night prayer is (3) “an eraser of sin, and a means of their prevention”

If you have accumulated sins which you fear being reminded of on the Day of Reckoning, then erase them during the night. Not only that, if you need a shield to prevent you from those sins that you fear returning to after repentance due to how irresistible they seem, again, such a shield can be acquired during the night.

This is one of the most amazing realities of the night prayer; it erases the sins of yesterday whilst providing a shield against the sins of tomorrow. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) referred to the night prayer as being “the honour of a believer”, for sins give rise to humiliation; a cold, bitter and dark sense of inward humiliation that one truly feels during the sin and after it as well, whilst the night prayer is a liberator from this.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

أتاني جبريل فقال : يا محمد ، عش ما شئت فإنك ميت ، وأحبب من شئت فإنك مفارقه ، واعمل ما شئت فإنك مجزي به ، واعلم أن شرف المؤمن قيامه بالليل ، وعزه استغناؤه عن الناس

“Angel Jibrīl came to me and said, ‘O Muḥammad, live as long as you wish, you shall die in the end. Love whom you wish, you will be separated from them in the end. Do whatever you wish, you shall be held accountable in the end, and realise that the honour of a believer is in his night prayer, and that his dignity is when he is not reliant on others.”[13]

Therefore you will usually find that those who collapse into all sorts of sins only do so after they let go of Salāh. Allāh said:

فَخَلَفَ مِنْ بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا

“But there came after them a generation who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to meet evil.” [14]

It is almost as if we are being told that it was only after they had neglected the prayer that they pursued desire. Apply this to your past or present and you will see just that. Thus the “honour of the believer” is in his prayer at night, an honour which Allāh will publicise even if that sincere believer tries to hide their good deeds. Thus ʿAtā Al-Khurasāni said:

قيام الليل محياة للبدن ونور في القلب وضياء في البصر وقوة في الجوارح وإن الرجل إذا قام من الليل يتهجد أصبح فرحًا يجد فرحًا في قلبه

“The night prayer is a means of life for the body, light for the heart, luminosity for the eyes and strength for one’s body. When a person engages in the night prayer, he wakes up the next day with real joy that he feels within his heart.”[15]

Saʿīd Ibnul Musayyib said:

إن الرجل ليصلي بالليل فيجعل الله في وجهه نورا يحبه عليه كل مسلم فيراه من لم يره قط فيقول: إني لأحبُ هذا الرجل

“It may be that a person prays at night and so Allāh causes light to emit from his face which causes every Muslim to love him, thus those who see him for the first time find themselves saying, ‘I really do love that person.’”

Those who would see the face of Wakīʿ b. Al-Jarraah would say “That’s an angel.” Note that Wakīʿ used to pray at night. Similarly, those who would see the face of Muḥammad b. Sīrīn would say “SubḥānAllāh” due to his radiant appearance. Again, Muḥammad used to pray at night.

In fact, Imām Ibnul Qayyim said:

وقد كان بعضُ النساء تُكثر صلاة الليل، فقيل لها في ذلك، فقالت: إنها تُحسّن الوجه، وأنا أحب أن يحسنَ وجهي

“Some women used to take care of the night prayer diligently and when asked about that, they’d respond: ‘It beautifies the face and I desire a beautiful face.’”[16]

After reading the above, I am certain that some will be eager to turn a new page with this act of worship as of this very evening, having finally decided to plug it in within their nightly routine, in hope for a prize, the true extent of which will only be discovered on the Day of Judgement. Let us therefore address a few common questions in preparation for tonight:

– How much should I recite during my night prayer?

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

مَنْ قَامَ بِعَشْرِ آيَاتٍ لَمْ يُكْتَبْ مِنْ الْغَافِلِينَ وَمَنْ قَامَ بِمِائَةِ آيَةٍ كُتِبَ مِنْ الْقَانِتِينَ وَمَنْ قَامَ بِأَلْفِ آيَةٍ كُتِبَ مِنْ الْمُقَنْطِرِينَ

“Whoever prays at night, having recited 10 verses, he will not be recorded among the negligent. Whoever prays at night, having recited 100 verses, he will be recorded among those who are obedient to Allāh; and whoever prays at night, having recited 1,000 verses, he will be recorded among the Muqantirīn (gatherers of a Qintār).” [17]

Linguistically a Qintār refers to:

مقدار كبير من الذهب ، وأكثر أهل اللغة على أنه أربعة آلاف دينار [..] وقيل : هو جُمْلة كثيرة مجهولة من المال

“An enormous sum of gold. The majority of the linguists are of the view that it equates to 4,000 Dinars [..] others have said that it refers to an unknown amount of wealth.”[18]

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), however, has given an idea of what he was referring to when he used the term Qintār, for in another narration he said:

 والقنطار خير من الدنيا وما فيها

“A Qintār is better than the entire world and everything within it.”[19]

On a side note, Imām Ibnu Hājar mentioned a benefit, saying:

من سورة (تبارك ) إلى آخر القرآن ألف آية اهـ .

“From Sūrah Al-Mulk (Chapter 67) until the end of the Qur’ān are 1,000 verses.”

– What if my memorisation of Qur’ān is limited?

Then, as Allāh said:

فَاقْرَءُوا مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ

“..then recite what is easy for you from the Qur’ān..”[20]

In fact, Abū Ghālib said that Ibnu ʿUmar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb would at times say to him moments before dawn,

 يا أبا غالب ألا تقوم فتصلي ولو تقرأ بثلث القرآن

“O Abū Ghaalib, why don’t you pray a few units of night prayer, even if it means that you only recite one third of the Qur’ān?” Abū Ghaalib would respond: “How can I do that when it’s almost dawn?” He said to him:

إن سورة الإخلاص قل هو الله أحد  – تعدل ثلث القرآن

“Sūrah Al-Ikhlās equates to one third of the Qur’ān!” [21]

– What if I set my alarm clock and set an intention to wake up but fail to do so?

Rest assured that Allāh will not leave you empty handed. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), said:

مَنْ أَتَى فِرَاشَهُ وَهُوَ يَنْوِي أَنْ يَقُومَ يُصَلِّي مِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَغَلَبَتْهُ عَيْنَاهُ حَتَّى أَصْبَحَ كُتِبَ لَهُ مَا نَوَى وَكَانَ نَوْمُهُ صَدَقَةً عَلَيْهِ مِنْ رَبِّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

“Whoever goes to bed whilst intending to pray later on in the night but is overcome by sleep until the next morning, he will be given the full reward according to his intention and his sleep would have been a charity from his Lord upon him.” [22]

– What if I struggle to experience the sweetness of the night prayer?

The joy of conversing with Allāh during the night brings a joy which no poet could ever describe. The people of the night impatiently count down the hours, minutes and seconds of the day, wishing that they could hurry the sunset as they yearn for those moments of private conversation and desperate supplication with Allāh. Sulaymān AdDārāni said:

 أَهْلُ اللَّيْلِ فِي لَيْلِهِمْ أَلَذُّ مِنْ أَهْلِ اللَّهْوِ فِي لَهْوِهِمْ ، وَلَوْلا اللَّيْلُ مَا أَحْبَبْتُ الْبَقَاءَ

“The joy of the people of the night is far sweeter than the joy of the people of play, and if it was not for the night, I would not want to remain alive.” [23]

These, however, are meanings, emotions and values that cannot be given justice to through words but need to be experienced first-hand. Just as Imām Ibnu Rajab said:

من لم يشاركهم في هواهم ويذوق حلاوة نجواهم لم يدر ما الذي أبكاهم من لم يشاهد جمال يوسف لم يدر ما الذي آلم قلب يعقوب

“Whoever does not join them in their joy and tastes the sweetness of their calling will never understand what it is that makes them weep, the same way that those who did not witness the beauty of Yūsuf will never understand why the heart of his father was so hurt.” [24]

“But why can’t I taste this?!” I hear you ask. Arriving at such an experience will take us time and much determination. At first, one’s soul will complain and whine, preferring rest, sleep and timeout, but when it realises just how determined you are to take it to Allāh and the Home of the Hereafter, it will surrender. It has to.

Thābit Al-Bunāni said:

كَابَدْتُ الصَّلاةَ عِشْرِينَ سَنَةً ، وَتَنَعَّمْتُ بِهَا عِشْرِينَ سَنَةً

“I struggled with my night prayer for 20 years, then I enjoyed it for 20 years.” [25]

Therefore, congratulations to those who illuminate their graves before they enter it, and to those who please their Lord before they meet Him, and to those who pray before they are prayed upon.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] At-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Abū Umaamah

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 73:2-4

[3] Al-Qur’ān, 73: 20

[4] Mukhtasar Qiyaamul Layl, Al-Marwazi

[5] Hilyatul Awliyaa, Abū Nu’aim

[6] Siyaru A’laamin Nubalaa, AdhDhahabi

[7] Al-Qur’ān, 32:16

[8] Al-Qur’ān, 32:17

[9] Haadil Arwaah, Ibnul Qayyim

[10] AtTirmidhi, on the authority of ‘Ali

[11] AlHaythami, on the authority of Abūd Dardaa

[12] Ahmad

[13] Al-Haakim

[14] Al-Qur’ān, 19:59

[15] AtTahajjud wa Qiyaamul Layl, Ibnu Abid Dunyā

[16] Rawdatul Muhibbeen

[17] Abū Daawood, on the authority of ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr ibnul ‘Aas

[18] AnNihaaya fee Ghareebil Hadeeth, Ibnul Atheer

[19] AtTabaraani

[20] Al-Qur’ān, 73:20

[21] Hilyatul Awliyaa

[22] AnNasaa’i, on the authority of Abūd Dardaa

[23] AlMujaalasa wa Jawaahirul ‘ilm, AdDeenoori

[24] Lataa’iful Ma’aarif

[25] Hilyatul Awliyaa

About Shaykh Ali Hammuda

Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is a UK national of Palestinian origin. He gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari'ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Ustādh Ali is the author of several books including 'The Daily Revivals' and 'The Ten Lanterns", and continues to deliver sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.

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